Alternatives to the Use of Military Force in Syria

Last Updated on September 6, 2013.

Alternatives to the Use of Military Force in Syria

If confirmed, the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons requires a strong response by the United States and the international community. While Washington is currently debating the use of military force, numerous alternative responses should be explored. We recognize that the choice before Congress is a difficult one. However when it comes to the crisis in Syria, there simply are no good options, only bad ones. Our laws and our values dictate that military action should only be made after all viable alternatives are employed. The list below is meant to be an example of some of the many alternatives which have yet to be exhausted with regards to Syria and to demonstrate that the choice between military action and doing nothing is a false one.


Tighten Sanctions

Currently the US and international sanctions on Syria contain numerous loopholes. In fact, sanctions against Iran, a country which our intelligence community estimates has not yet chosen to develop a nuclear weapon, are actually tougher than sanctions against Syria, a country which our intelligence community believes has now used chemical weapons. Clearly there is room to strengthen sanctions aimed at punishing the Assad regime for their alleged use of chemical weapons.

Lead a Unified International Response

While much is made of Russian intransigence, the current US plan for military action lacks the support of some our best friends on the international stage from the United Kingdom to the Czech Republic. Instead of leading an all-hands-on-deck effort to convince the US Congress to support military intervention, the Administration could engage on building and leading an international coalition on a robust international response that the world can agree on. With near universal condemnation of the alleged use of chemical weapons, there are a host of potential international responses – both inside and outside the United Nations – that could prove far more impactful on the situation in Syria than a limited airstrike.

Focus on a Political Settlement to End the Conflict in Syria

There is universal agreement that the 2+ year conflict in Syria will only end with a negotiated, political solution. The US could focus on diplomacy, talking directly with Iran, Russia, and other parties we have only engaged minimally on Syria, and working for an immediate ceasefire by all parties. There is also a growing humanitarian crisis with 2 million refugees having fled Syria and 5 million internally displaced Syrians, a situation likely to worsen with American military intervention. Humanitarian assistance and assistance to allies such as Turkey and Jordan who are struggling to cope with a flood of refugees will undoubtedly save more lives than any US bombing. 


List of Alternatives to the Use of Military Force in Syria

(Note: This list is neither exhaustive nor does Win Without War endorse every option. Rather, it is an example of the myriad alternatives to military intervention in Syria) 

United States Unilateral Actions

  • Tighten loopholes in existing banking sanctions
  • Cut off U.S. government contracts with anyone doing business with Syria
  • Freeze any assets within the U.S. of senior Syrian government officials and their families and of state-owned entities, and encourage others to do likewise
  • Impose targeted sanctions against Syrian political leaders and military commanders who are found to be responsible for the massacre
  • Impose immediate U.S. sanctions cancelling all business dealings and barring from U.S. markets any governments or firms that enable or finance Syrian government atrocities and encourage U.S. allies to do the same
  • Provide additional antidotes to nerve agents directly to the Syrian people
  • Increase and better allocate humanitarian funds to address refugee flows:
  • The United Nation’s Syria Regional Refugee Response plan, which calls for US$3 billion dollars to address the acute needs of refugees until December of this year, is currently only 38 percent funded
  • The United Nations announced in June that it needs $5 billion just to cover the most basic Syrian humanitarian needs until the end of the year. The United States announced in August that it would contribute an additional $195 million to humanitarian aid, a big step but far short of what’s needed
  • Provide a detailed, unclassified report of the evidence it has obtained identifying the Syrian political and military leaders responsible for the chemical attack
  • Engage directly with Russia and Iran to seek support for a coordinated strategy to take action against those responsible for the chemical massacre and to encourage a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war


International (not dependent on UN Security Council)

  • Move to strip Assad regime from Syria’s UN seat
  • Convene a meeting of all the parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) so that they can collectively decide what to do, as called for in the terms of the treaty
  • Support an international war crimes tribunal for crimes against humanity conducted in Syria
  • Launch a concerted diplomatic effort to reach international agreement on an immediate cessation of all arms shipments to all parties
  • Renew and intensify pressure on the Syrian government and rebel forces to participate in the proposed Geneva II peace negotiations, toward the goal of reaching a ceasefire and agreement for sharing power in Syria
  • Ensure that all parties to the armed conflict in Syria allow unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and agencies to provide assistance to the civilian population. In the case of the Syrian government, this should include granting cross-border access, as well as cross-line access. All parties must allow provision of assistance on the basis of need, without discrimination
  • Support continued and more thorough investigation by UN inspectors to develop further evidence of precisely who was responsible for the massacre
  • Share responsibility for refugees and ease the strain on Syria’s neighbours in order to assist and protect those who have fled the conflict.
  • Demand that the Assad regime appear before the Security Council and the Arab League to respond to the evidence presented and to the report of the UN inspection team
  • Include UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in discussions between the U.S. and Russia
  • Immediately convene the stalled ‘Geneva 2’ peace process, including all parties to the conflict and interested outside parties, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the US
  • Build political will for cooperation around non-military intervention options in the context of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly and Responsibility to Protect (R2P) discussions
  • Expand the mandate of the inspectors regarding the current allegations of CW use
  • Assume General Assembly responsibility under the Uniting for Peace procedure (to circumvent Security Council inaction)
  • Support international human rights monitors (understanding the risk they take) to provide objective information on war crimes.
  • Support the Syrian National Council’s idea of the establishment of a Safe Area to protect refugees and to create a Syrian version of Benghazi where the opposition could establish and build an alternative government


United Nations Security Council

  • Fully exhaust all security council options. Force China and Russia to publicly oppose action
  • Seek approval of resolutions at the UN Security Council condemning the chemical massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity
  • Refer the Syrian chemical attacks to the International Criminal Court with an expedited mandate for gaining further criminal evidence and issuing indictments against those responsible


Regional Groups (Arab League, Organization for Islamic Cooperation)

  • Seek approval of resolutions at the Arab League condemning the chemical massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity
  • More aggressively use American leverage on Iraq
  • Support regional efforts to deal with growing refugee crisis
September 6, 2013